empire-of-illusion   My summer vacation reading was a sunny little book by Nick Turse called Kill Anything That Moves.  I finished the other book I was noshing on, the Age of American Unreason, just after returning from Kaslo and now I’ve started Chris Hedges book, the Empire of Illusion.  Turse’s book is a necessary read for anyone who wants to understand what war is all about; I’ll be posting quotes from it here soon, but a work of that calibre needs time to digest, to make sense of the crushing sorrow it brings about.

Hedges book is similar to Jacoby’s Age of Unreason, but takes a different tack focusing almost immediately on the present.   Hedges begins with a pro-wrestling story and broadens it to convey the idea that we are replacing substance and reality with flash and dramatic narrative (Check out the CBC Podcast on the Empire of Illusion):

[Plato’s Cave just before this…]

“We are chained to the flickering shadows of celebrity culture, the spectacle of the arena and the airwaves, the lies of advertising, the endless personal dramas, many of them completely fictional, that have become the staple of news, celebrity gossip, New Age mysticism, and pop psychology.  In the Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, Daniel Boorstin writes that in contemporary culture the fabricated, the inauthentic, and the theatrical have displaced the natural, the genuine, and the spontaneous, until reality itself has been converted into stagecraft.  Americans, he writes, increasingly live in a “world where fantasy is more real than reality,”  He warns:

    We risk being the first people in history to have been able to make their illusions so vivid, so persuasive, so “realistic” that they can live in them.  We are the most illusioned people on earth.  Yet we dare not become disillusioned, because your illusions are the very house in which we live; they are our news, our heroes, our adventure, our forms of art, our very experience. 

     Boorstin goes on to caution that

an image is something we have claim on.  It must serve our purposes.  Images are means.  If a corporation’s image of itself or a man’s image of himself is not useful, it is discarded.  Another may fit better.  The image is made to order, tailored to us.  An ideal, on the other hand, has a claim on us.  It does not serve us; we serve it.  If we have trouble striving towards [sic] it , we assume the matter is with us, and not with the ideal.

    Those who manipulate the shadows that dominate our lives are the agents, publicists, marketing departments, promoters, script writers, television and movie producers, advertisers, video technicians, photographers, bodyguards, wardrobe consultants, fitness trainers, pollsters, public announcers, and television news personalities that create the vast stage for illusion.  They are the puppet masters.  No one achieves celebrity status, no cultural illusion is swallowed as reality, without these armies of cultural enablers and intermediaries.  The sole object is to hold attention and satisfy an audience.  These techniques of theatre, as Boorstin notes, have leached into politics, religion, education, literature, news, commerce, warfare and crime.  The squalid dramas played out for fans in the wrestling ring mesh with the ongoing dramas on television, in movies, and in the news, where “real-life” stories, especially those involving celebrities, allow news reports to become mini-drams complete with a star, a villian, a supporting cast, a good-looking host, and a neat, if often unexpected, conclusion”. 

*boom*  The beginnings of understanding our manufactured culture in less than 600 words.  Enjoy.